Our Locations in France

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things that we will and won't miss about France

On April 30, we cleaned our rented home in Angers, France and put all of our possessions in the car (there was almost no room left for passengers) before departing for a one-month whirlwind tour of Europe. Our last month in France was very busy with guests from the United States and social invitations from our friends in Angers. After seven months in Angers, we felt like we were just starting to make some close friends and get invited into people's homes. It was hard leaving our wonderful friends in Angers.

While we were packing up our things, we had time to think about the things that we will and will not miss about France. First, the things that we won't miss about France (note that Bronwyn has added her comments in orange). We will not miss:
  • Low ceilings and doorways - because so many buildings were built at a time when people were shorter than today, many doorways and ceilings, including the doorways in the house we rented in Angers, are less than six feet tall. Although you would think that I would learn to duck, I banged my head on a doorway or low beam at least once a day. I think that I will have permanent scars.
  • Dog poop on the sidewalks and in parks - The French, particularly Parisians, are notorious for failing to pick up after their dogs. The reputation is deserved.  While some parts of the country are better than others, a walk across the grass in a French parks is almost always a walk through a minefield of dog droppings. As I write this, we are in Germany and it was nice being able to walk on the grass in a park and walk on the sidewalks without feeling like we were stepping through a minefield. [Joanie and I did not seem to have any problem avoiding stepping in it - Bronwyn.]
  • Medieval staircases - we rented a wonderfully restored medieval home in Angers that far exceeded our expectations in most respects. However, the dark, slippery medieval staircase, with its uneven steps of varying shapes and heights was my nemesis. I took one bad fall down the steps in September and after that I managed to narrowly avoid any further bad falls, but my hand is still sore seven months after the fall in September (we had my hand x-rayed, but they said that it was not broken). I will be glad to return to standard modern staircases. They definitely don't look as pretty as the typical French medieval staircase, but they are a lot easier to navigate in the dark.
  • Tiny refrigerators">By French standards we had a large refrigerator in our house in Angers, but it was still the size of a college dorm refrigerator rather than the typical American refrigerator.  Furthermore, the freezer shelf really could not be counted on to keep things frozen. It will be nice to be able to keep more than a day's worth of food in the refrigerator. [I was just thinking this morning that I might actually like tiny refrigerators.  I buy what I need, so I do not waste as much food - Bronwyn]
The ultimate low showerhead.
The bathroom was a cave dug
into the hillside from the house.
  • Low showerheads - at many of the places we stayed in France (admittedly not any five-star hotels) it was necessary to crouch to get my head under the showerhead. Furthermore, because bathrooms and showers were often added long after homes were constructed, they are often tucked into a location where it is possible to touch all four walls in the room at the same time and impossible to stand up straight in the shower. This means that it is sometimes necessary to be a contortionist to take a shower. Perhaps making the showering experience uncomfortable is just a clever way to get Americans to take shorter showers. 
  • Rain - it rains a lot in Angers. I am over it. 
  • Diesel exhaust - Most French cars are diesels and it is my guess that almost none of them would pass American emission standards. This means that there is often a strong diesel odor in the air. As I rode my bike along French roads, I wondered whether I was doing my lungs more harm than good because I was breathing in so many diesel particulates. I suspect that my clothes will smell like diesel exhaust when I open my suitcase after arriving home in the United States.
  • [Note that Bronwyn could not think of anything that she did not like about France.]
Things that we will miss about France:
  • Walkability - it has been wonderful living in a place where we can walk to everything. At one point I think that I managed to go two and one-half weeks without getting into an automobile. Some less obvious benefits of being able to walk everywhere are that you can eat a lot of really good French food without gaining weight and you can drink a lot of good French wine without worrying about having to drive home.
  • Dining in France - Not only is French cooking generally excellent, but the pace of dining in French adds to the enjoyment (once you get used to the idea that you need to allow 2-3 hours for the dining experience). I will admit that it too me a while to get used to the pace of French dining.  At first, I was frustrated by what I perceived as slow service, but by the end of our seven months we were enjoying the dining experience so much that we were often slower than the French guests.
  • Bike trails - The Loire Valley has an amazing network of bike trails that make it easy to ride a bike almost anywhere from the local supermarket to a historic chateau. In fact, you can follow the trails from Angers to Budapest. Not only are the bike treals great, but you can even take your bike on the trains.
  • Local street markets - there were local street markets withing two blocks of our house two times per week. There were also many other street markets in other parts of the town. These markets offer an amazing variety of local, seasonal, straight-from-the-farm, meat, vegetables, cheeses, wines and other products. The vendors were proud of their products and they were always willing to take time to share their knowledge about the best way to prepare their food.
  • Our local butcher - I am a little concerned that Bronwyn fell in love with our local butcher because she visited him almost every day. However, I must admit that I enjoyed the great cuts of meat and the benefits of getting the local butcher's advice about how to cook unfamiliar cuts of meat.
  • Our local boulangerie - one of the great things about France is that you are almost always with in walking distance of fresh bread. We will being able to wake up in the morning and decide that it might be nice to run down to the local boulangerie for a fresh pain chocolat (for Joan), fresh croissant (for Bronwyn) and fresh chausson aux pommes (for me). We might run out agin for a fresh bagette for dinner. Of course, one of the clerks at our local boulangerie did like to constantly correct our French grammar and French pronounciation, which could get annoying.
  • Our local wine lady - just around the corner from our house was a "cave" (wine store) run by a young woman who always seemed to be able to find the perfect wine at a reasonable price for whatever we were having for dinner.
  • Cheap good wine - we found plenty of great wines that were under ten Euros. My only regret is that most of those wines probably are not imported into the United States and the wines that are imported will probably cost a lot more in the United States than in France.
  • Cheese - I must confess that my enthusiasm for the multitude of French cheeses waned from time to time (I got cheesed out), but it is hard to deny that France has an unbelievably wide variety of cheeses. It will be hard to go back to a selection of processed and prepackaged cheeses.
  • The French aesthetic - the French seem to believe that things should be both beautiful and functional. Sometimes the aesthetics seem to take priority over functionality, but usually the French strike a delightful balance.
  • The French lifestyle - The French seem to believe that your job should NOT be the most important thing in life. Food, wine, loved ones, and life in general, should be enjoyed and savored. We can learn a lot from the French about finding balance in our lives between work, family and pleasure.
  • [items added by Bronwyn:]
    • The church bells that we hear throughout the day
    • Picard - Picard is a chain of food stores in France that only sells very high quality frozen food. Picard was always our "go to" source of food whenever none of us felt like cooking and the food was always excellent.
    • French yogurt selection
    • Delicious apples and pears from the Loire Valley
    • French flour
    • Pannier champagne

  • Our French friends - the great friends we made in France are what we will miss the most. Although Parisians have a reputation for being rude to Americans, most of France is very different than Paris. We had very few experiences where anybody was rude to us (mostly on the highway) and a limitless supply of stories about French people who went out of their way to be nice to us. We were fortunate to make some wonderful friends and to be invited into many different French homes. We met a woman who had fought in the French resistance during World War II and was later a pioneer in the fashion industry. We met an amazing couple with seven children who were restoring an ancient monastery as a transitional home for the homeless. We met a French doctor and his family who seemed to have made it their personal mission to be goodwill ambassadors for France around the world. We met many people who had restored ancient homes and businesses. These people and the experiences in their homes are the things that we will fondly remember about France.
This list could go on and on, Perhaps I will add more things in the future as time passes and I see things in a new light.

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